The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

February 4, 2013

The Impossible: Is It Impossibly Good?

Roger Thomas

Monday, February 4, 2013 — Most of us remember when we first heard of the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia in December 2004. Even as we listened to the reports and saw photos and film of the destruction, it was nearly impossible to imagine what it would have been like to be there in the midst of that huge natural disaster.  

In 2010, Clint Eastwood gave moviegoers a glimpse of the event in his film “Hereafter.” I am not a big fan of that film because I never felt emotionally involved with the characters on screen. The special effects of the tsunami were very impressive, chilling in their cinematography and their action. However, the rest of the film left me wanting a more powerful and personal story of those who experienced the massive disaster.

One finds that story in “The Impossible.” This film offers an account of the experiences of a real British family of five who lived in Japan but was vacationing in Thailand over the Christmas holidays. In the film, the family is enjoying time in their resort’s pool when the tsunami hits. The scenes that immediately follow are stirring on so many levels. “Hereafter” was nominated for a Visual Effects Oscar for the depiction of the disaster. “The Impossible,” though receiving no such acknowledgement from the Academy for visual effects, offers a much more amazing depiction of this catastrophe.

For 30 minutes or more, the acts of survival on screen are exhilarating and devastating all at the same time. The one thought that kept running through my mind was, “How did they film that without putting the actors in danger? It looks so real!”

Beyond the incredible scenes of the disaster, the film boasts several special performances. “Impossible” might not have been recognized for visual effects, but Naomi Watts, who plays the mother of the family, did receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. I have mixed feelings about who should win, but Watts, who has been nominated once before for “21 Grams” (an incredible film in which her character’s family faces a tragedy which is smaller in scoop but no less destructive on her life), deserves to win here. I do not think she will, but I would be pleased if she did.

Tom Holland, who plays Lucas, the oldest of the three sons in the family, also gives a truly outstanding performance. Lucas in many ways becomes both the central character of the film and the hero. Oscar buzz had circled around him for a while, but unfortunately there were too many strong male performances for Holland to get nominated.  Ewan McGregor plays the father Henry; he has less screen time than Watts and Holland, but he too delivers a powerful effort in his role.

Once again as we have discussed in previous reviews, this is a film based on a true story, and I am not sure how much of it is factually accurate. But beyond the stunning visuals and the strong and moving performances, the greatest strength of this film is the narrative. This screenplay reminds us that even when the worst happens, righteousness still matters. Henry asks another survivor if he can use his cell phone and the man replies that his battery is almost dead. Later on, another man, this one seeking to find his family, insists that Henry make not one but two calls. In the midst of tragedy and despair, who was the righteous neighbor?

At a different point in the film, Maria (Watts) advises Lucas to “Go and help people, you are good at it.” She is lying in a hospital bed not sure whether she will survive her injuries and she is advising her young son to help others, to be a good Samaritan.  Moments like that, and many others which depict people at their best in the worst of circumstances, make “The Impossible” a very stirring and uplifting film and reminder to us all that goodness, mercy, compassion and righteousness should never be swept away in the harsher waves of life.

After nearly a month in the theatres, “The Impossible” has grossed less than $10 million. I am sure it has gotten lost among the big end-of-year releases. Hopefully, my thoughts have encouraged at least a few readers to seek out this powerful, amazing, inspiring film. I do not think you will be disappointed.   


Roger Thomas reviews films for the Stanly News & Press. His reviews appear at various times in print and online.